Anarchy in the IE: Love/Hate, Chaos and Coincidence

I am currently reading John Higg’s excellent “The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds”. It’s far from your standard music biography, as it spins off into discussions of philosophy, magic, neuroscience, Carl Jung and Doctor Who (amongst many other things). One of the main themes throughout the book is that reality is composed of a series of coincidences, and that we attempt to prescribe meaning or order to these chaotic happenings in order to make sense of them. It uses the example of the JFK assassination to make this point. By sifting through the tonnes of data and information surrounding the killing, conspiracy theorists have been able to find connections that help them build a series of events that explain what happened. But Biggs stresses that for the most part these are simply coincidences, nothing more.

I put the book down on Sunday evening to watch the series finale of “Love/Hate”. “Love/Hate” has grown from being a relatively unknown show, more watched out of morbid curiosity due to its earlier ‘cringe’ factor, to being a genuine cultural phenomenon. This maturation happened during the third series, where the show came into its own. I should stress: I enjoy watching “Love/Hate”, I think it’s well made, and excellently acted. But all along something has been nagging me about it, and the series finale cemented it for me. “Love/Hate” is completely chaotic.

Series 4 featured two main plot threads. The first began at the start of series 3 and surround the IRA’s tensions with the chief protagonist Nidge and his gang. This feud started in relatively chaotic fashion, an interrupted sexual assault led to a murder, which set in motion a battle between two opposing sides. Nothing wrong with this; if you read up on many of Ireland’s real life criminal feuds you find that they often begin in such a manner. This tension grew and grew week after week, and by the end of series 3 claimed the life of one of the show’s principal characters and set the scene for a climactic conclusion in the 4th series. And as the latest series began, they picked up the baton and slowly led us towards what should have been a fitting conclusion. But this plot thread fizzled out due to happenstance. We were following two would-be assassins week in week out as they stalked Nidge, and this culminated in an amazingly tense scene of cat-and-mouse as he narrowly evaded them in his own home. As they leave the scene, determined to return, a minor traffic accident undoes everything in a matter of moments. A car is rear-ended and everything unravels. The chief assassin, driven by vengeance for her brother’s murder, is arrested and the architect of the plot, Dano, is duly dispatched by his own people for breaking rank (In a terrific scene, it must be said).

When I complained about this, arguing that a major plot point had dissolved in such innocuous circumstances, my brother retorted that that was the nature of the Universe. Coincidence, happenstance, and accidents are the order of the day. He saw the chaos. I could see this point, but still felt it was lazy writing. “Love/Hate” had previous, where major plot points are fuelled or aided by accident.

My suspicions about the show were confirmed during the finale. The other major plot point of the series, the Garda detectives closing in on Nidge’s drug smuggling, resolved itself (for now) via a random accident. I was convinced that Nidge (and the writers) had one over on us, that everyone (and the Guards) were certain they knew Nidge’s plan, but he had masterminded a genius bate-and-switch involving a fake container and warehouse. But no, the plot was as simple as it seemed; the detectives had his number from the start and he was only saved due to a random occurrence. Just before the swoop, Nidge asked Tommy to help him out. Tommy throughout this series suffered from health issues due to an assault on him by Nidge in the previous series. Nidge is using Tommy, so has reason to bring him. But Tommy’s presence is the catalyst for the story to resolve itself simply. At a crucial moment he collapses and the guards must raid early to save his life, thus botching their arrest. This made for amazingly tense viewing – but ultimately felt flat and underwhelming. Yet again a random occurrence saved Nidge. It was entertaining viewing, but unsatisfactory.

You could argue that this all makes sense. Nidge lives in a world of chaos. Indeed, Nidge and Fran are agents of chaos, and chaos seems to follow them everywhere. But whilst life is certainly driven by random events and coincidence, it also also driven by plans and decisions. But in “Love/Hate” it feels like nothing has significance; characters disappear, die, come in and out randomly. Major chains of events fizzle out due to minor incidents. For a drama it makes it increasingly difficult to invest in it. One thing I bemoaned about series 3 was that it didn’t shed any light on the activities of these people; almost everything was driven by emotion and relationships. At least series 4 went some way to see how they make a living (and how the guards investigate them). But even this rang a bit hollow when the plot revealed it self to be so shallow.

Some people who sneer at “Love/Hate” have remarked “It’s not ‘The Wire'”. And it’s not, but there’s no reason why it can’t be. There’s no reason why a series set in Ireland cannot be as densely textured as “The Wire”. But “Love/Hate” is not that. For all it’s value, it’s acting, it’s production values, at it’s heart is a void where a rich plot should be. It is a series of random events, some of which have consequences, some don’t. In all series 4 felt like a set up for another series.

In one of the last scene’s in Sunday’s episode, after the drug bust has failed, Nidge and his accomplice Fran are talking about how things have transpired and Fran explains it by saying “The Universe, Nidge, The Universe”. It seems here that Fran is explicitly acknowledging the chaotic nature of the world they live in. But he then follows it up by saying “What goes around, comes around”, implying there is an underlying order or moral justice at play. This is of course, meant to be prophetic, as Nidge and Fran are on a collision course due to their various past deeds. But it also exposes the extremely simple laws of nature of “Love/Hate”‘s ‘Universe’. Life is a mix of decision, indecision, chaos, order, meaning and randomness. But in “Love/Hate” we don’t see this. We just see a series of events, some connected, some not.

The very last scene of the series caused possibly the most consternation for viewers. Nidge walks up to a Garda station and urinates on their milk outside, resulting in him being pulled inside a cell, where he has howling rage-filled fit, all set (unsubtley) to “Anarchy in the U.K.”. Lots of people online immediately posted comments of confusion at this. But it occurred to me that this made total sense. This was the show admitting that it is entirely chaotic. Nidge is chaos personified.

Sadly, pure chaos does not make for very satisfying drama.